It’s 95 degrees in the Florida sun. My partner, Sam, is driving. I’m in the passenger seat of the truck, squinting against the sun. I’m anxious, looking out the rearview mirror. The rear bumper is dangerously close to a palm tree thicker than I am. We’re sweating, but not from the heat.
Hitched to the truck is our 30-foot travel trailer, weighing in at about 7,000 pounds. We’re backing up the trailer ― blind because our rearview camera is busted ― into the world’s tiniest campground spot. It’s like fitting a baseball bat through the head of a needle.
“If I go any slower we’ll get stuck on that rut.”
“Slower. You’re gonna hit that tree.”
“I know about the tree!”
Sensing the tension, an older butch lesbian approaches and waves us down. Recognition passes between us: family. She offers the kind of help that only comes from a decade of RV experience. Speaking through the rolled-down window and miming how to turn the wheel, the woman guides us into the spot.
“You staying for lesbian weekend?” she says, “Good.”
Housing instability is the norm for many queer folks. Even if corporations sponsor Pride and gay marriage is legal, LGBTQ+ folks still have higher rates of poverty and homelessness, and lower rates of home ownership compared to their non-queer counterparts. Queer folks, especially the elderly, still face discriminatory practices regarding renting, mortgage lending, sales and senior housing. Discrimination is even more harmful for queer and trans folks of color, who face more intense marginalization at the intersection of race, gender and sexuality.
So if you know queer people, you know the beating heart of many communities is the pursuit of a safe home ― one you don’t have to be closeted in, can’t be kicked out of, or disowned in.
My early 20s saw a lot of bouncing around dorm rooms, my girlfriends’, my friends’, my parents’, my girlfriends’ parents, and hotel rooms paid for through work. After the quarantine hit, a housemate left the country and my rented house flooded out completely. Standing in a soaking wet kitchen, I finally asked myself: If my life is so unsteady, why not just embrace it?
If stability represents everything capitalism tells us to want ― nuclear families, the rush for a cutthroat career, heterosexuality ― I want to be as unsteady as possible.
Sam, my partner, was a seasoned road warrior, having traveled the U.S. and the world extensively.
“It won’t be like a vacation. It’ll be our lives, just in 270 square feet,” she reminded me.
We were sitting on the coach, peering into the kitchen. Water was gurgling up from under the wood floors. Our cats pawed at the puddles.
“Let’s do it.”
It takes a particular kind of irreverence (and magic) to give away all your things, change careers, and settle into what is essentially a tin can on wheels. We leaned on our queer family and got in touch with an artist on 5 acres of gorgeous, undeveloped land.
The day to day of RV living requires a lot of organization and cooperation. Unlike in a typical home, our freshwater, electricity and toilet capacity is limited while we travel (unless we pay to hook up to a power supply, sewer line and water source at an RV park or campground).
The biggest surprise was how cold the RV gets. During the winter, which in north Florida can drop to the 30s at night and 40s during the day, we blasted the propane heat. But RVs have no insulation, which meant we layered up with sweaters, socks and multiple comforters, and still bought 40 gallon propane tanks on an almost weekly basis.
Our first night on the land was during a January cold spell. We built a huge fire. The feeling of the wide-open sky, the warm, red glow on my cheeks, new friends, and the chilly, dark woods surrounding us was delicious. I realized how hungry I was for this kind of living ― adaptable, itinerant, rowdy, unsteady and refreshingly uncertain. I ate that night whole. It tasted exactly like the best parts of being a lesbian.
RV living, “digital nomading,” and #VanLife are increasingly popular these days. But I resist my life being neatly tucked into pearly Instagram posts or a hashtag. To me, Van Life means glitzy hetero couples going on temporary adventures and getting some cute pics. My version is more rugged, more urgent. My version looks like a commitment to queer home and community.
Queer people, especially lesbians during the Land Dyke movement of the 1960s and ’70s, have always looked for ways to live affordably, safely and in community. To hit the road, sleep in the same bed as my partner, and cohabitate with my lesbian partner are wild blessings from those who came before me. In some small way, I see myself as part of their legacy.
Fast forward seven months, and Sam and I are finished setting up the RV. The AC is blasting, the fridge is humming, the water is hooked up, and the cats are sleeping in the corner. This spot is a rarity ― Sawmill is one of the only gay campgrounds in the country. Sawmill mostly caters to gay and bisexual men and features a lax policy on nudity, a pool, and on-site bars and drag performances.
Once a year is the Women’s Weekend, which is why Sam and I booked the very tight, back-in only RV spot. There are visibly gay people everywhere ― chatting, flirting, swimming, living. No one is shy or embarrassed or closed off. No one is ogling Sam and I as they do at straight-dominated campgrounds. We’re all just here. Together.
Our friends and chosen family, partially drawn by the novelty and excitement of a gay-only outdoor space, and partly to send Sam and me off, are coming in from all over the state. It’s a goodbye tour of sorts, as we’re leaving to start a cross-country road trip. We have no plan, no agenda and no time frame. As our friends come by, so does the butch who rescued us earlier. I smile and look around.
We welcome each person into our home, which is exactly as messy, transitory and safe as we need it to be.